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Gove and May lock horns as Education Secretary declares: ‘Trojan Horse swamp must be drained’

Gove and May lock horns as Education Secretary declares: ‘Trojan Horse swamp must be drained’

🕔04.Jun 2014

Tory Ministers have become embroiled in a furious media briefing war before publication of an Ofsted report into an alleged plot by hardline Muslims to take over Birmingham schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has likened the Trojan Horse affair to infiltration of the Labour Party by the far-left Militant Tendency in the 1980s.

He fears that a small group of extremists is attempting to Islamise Birmingham schools and blames the Home Office for failing to take action in the past.

Such tactics are similar to those used by Militant, which saw a stealthy takeover of key positions in constituency Labour parties by extremists and the ousting from office of moderate officials.

Mr Gove’s inflammatory remarks are reported in The Times newspaper, which quotes him as stating that a robust response is required in Birmingham “to drain the swamp”.

He said there was reluctance in Whitehall, especially at the Home Office, to confront extremism unless it develops into terrorism.

The Education Secretary’s stance has angered the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who is the front runner to take over from David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party.

Her officials hit back by stating that the Department for Education had known about problems in Birmingham schools for several years, but took no action.

A Home Office source said: “Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010?”

Extracts from a blunt exchange between Mrs May and Mr Gove have been released, making it clear that the Home Secretary believes the Department for Education ought to have acted sooner to sort out claims of extremism in Birmingham schools.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Mrs May says: “The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this Code of Practice.

“How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain?

“Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?

“I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.​”

Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore told BBC Radio WM this week that the first he knew about “suggestions that the governance of some of our schools was to be questioned” was in November 2013 when the first of several Trojan Horse letters was brought to his attention.

Ofsted’s report into 21 Birmingham schools will be published next week, but details have been leaked so extensively that the city council is bracing itself for the worst. Chief executive Mark Rogers warned last month that a “firestorm” would be created when the watchdog revealed its findings.

The Labour-led council fears that Mr Gove could even use special powers to assume direct control of some or all Birmingham schools. A Government Commissioner is already overseeing children’s social care and it is possible a similar arrangement could be put in place for schools.

It’s expected that Ofsted will place five city schools in special measures, including establishments run by the Park View Educational Trust. Another 12 schools will be criticised by Ofsted for weaknesses in leadership and safeguarding children.

Park View’s chair of governors, Tahir Alam, helped write a Muslim guidebook that appeared to advocate the introduction of Islamic practices into schools including making girls cover up and gender segregation.

Mr Alam has said the book was for guidance only and has denied claims that girls and boys were forcibly segregated at Park View, or that a speaker with extremist views spoke at an assembly.

The five schools to be placed in special measures are likely to have their governing bodies replaced, and some head teachers may lose their jobs.

Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw is expected to say that children are being denied a “rounded education” and that at one school staff were failing to protect children from extremist views.

Snap inspections by the watchdog are believed to have uncovered evidence of boys and girls being taught separately, the dropping of some national curriculum subjects and the invitation of an extremist speaker.

Last year Sir Michael described Birmingham as one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children. His comment referred to the city’s inadequate children’s social services, which have been in special measures for five years.

A former Birmingham Director of Education, Professor Tim Brighouse, entered the fray by warning that Ofsted was at risk of breaching its political impartiality by publishing “tarnished” reports.

In a letter to The Guardian newspaper signed by leading educationalists and Muslim leaders including former Birmingham city councillor Salma Yaqoob, Prof Brighouse says Ofsted has been inflicted with “an ideology at odds with traditional British values”.

Describing the mass inspection as “a landmark in the history of education in these islands”, Brighouse and the other signatories argue: “First-hand accounts of the Ofsted inspections that have emerged are disturbing. They suggest that inspectors were poorly prepared and had an agenda that calls into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional in its appraisal of standards in schools serving predominantly Muslim pupils.”

An Ofsted spokesman dismissed the concerns: “We will be publishing our findings early next week. However, these claims are baseless. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, had personal oversight of these inspections, which were carried out in very challenging circumstances, and he is completely satisfied that his inspectors conducted themselves with great professionalism and integrity throughout the process.”

A second Trojan Horse salvo will hit Birmingham council following publication of the Ofsted report.

Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit, was appointed by Mr Gove to investigate possible links between the schools named in the Trojan Horse allegations. His report is expected to be published next month.

 

 

 

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